Early this year, a madrassa teacher and an imam of a mosque in Hatia Upazila, Noakhali (Bangladesh) were physically attacked by the Muslim community from allegedly trying to preventing a child marriage of a 13-year-old girl. While the practice of under-aged girls being married off to older men is not limited to the Islamic world, where the is prevalent, even those of pre-pubescent girls tend to be common. Regrettably, this is something that has not been directly challenged by the international community. In January 2014, the UN in Geneva rightfully criticized the Roman Catholic Church for its negligence in handling the cases of child-sex-abuse by priests. Yet the same UN Human Rights Council continues to remain silent about the practice and public advocacy of female child-marriages in Muslim countries.
In the Islamic world, a female in her prepubescent years can be forced into a marriage with an older man, so long as her father or mother or male guardian consents to it. This, notwithstanding appeals such as that of Nada al-Ahdal, an eleven-year-old Yemenese, who in 2013 spoke from her own personal trauma when her mother tried to marry her off to an older man: “What about the innocence of childhood? What have the children done wrong? Why do you want to marry them off like that?…It’s not our fault. I’m not the only one. It can happen to any child. I’m better off dead. I’d rather die.”
Pedophilia is “an ongoing sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children.” Islamic doctrine validates such conduct under the pretense that it is not child abuse but a young girl’s capacity to live out her dignity as a woman. Despite many Islamic states prohibiting such matrimonial contracts, sharia courts have the power to override state laws. In various Islamic countries, a nine-year-old girl is not, according to sharia law, considered a child for she can already be considered to have reached the age of puberty. Justification of this is found from the hadith (the Sunna) of Sahih al-Bukhari:
Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated: The Prophet married me when I was a girl of six (years)… while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends [my mother] called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house…Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, despite recent opposition, there does not yet appear to be a minimum age limit in which a girl can be forced to marry a man. In 2009, the Issuing Fatwas Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh upheld this practice: “It is incorrect to say that it [is] not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger. A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she [is] too you are wrong and they are being unfair to her.… We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls. We should know that Sharia law has not brought injustice to women.”
In some places, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, this observance has the approval of state law. In fact, its first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. He called marriage to a prepubescent girl “a divine blessing” and advised the faithful, “Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.” Khomeini’s justification was found in the Shi’ite hadith: “The Prophet entered upon ‘A’ishah when she was 10 years old, and that one does [not] enter [upon] a jaariyah [girl] until she became a woman.”
The notion of pedophilia as a deviant or disturbed sexuality did not exist in seventh-century Arabia. In fact, when Muhammad married Aisha, he was doing no less than what other men of his time were doing themselves. Islamic jurists try to get around this by saying that Aisha was nineteen or twenty years of age when Muhammad consummated his marriage with her. They argue that the hadiths are being misinterpreted, especially in light that they was written a couple of centuries after the Prophet’s death. Assuming that they are correct (although they fail to provide clear evidence to sustain their position), the hadith of al-Bukhari records that Aisha was allowed to have her dolls and would play with her:
“I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girlfriends also used to play with me. When Allah’s Apostle used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me.” Why then would she be allowed to play with dolls if she was not a child?
Muslims are quick to point out immorality in Western society, since it is in contradiction to the perfect and unalterable law of God. Whenever the moral character of the Prophet is scrutinized, especially with respect to his marriage with Aisha, Islamic scholars argue that marriage to prepubescent girls was common in biblical times. While this may be true, it has nothing to do with God endorsing the practice.